Thursday 22 March 2018

A vivacious Irish actress who gave cinema food for thought

Joyce Redman, the actress, who has died aged 96, was best known for the dinner scene in Tom Jones (1963), Tony Richardson's hugely successful film version of Henry Fielding's novel, in which she and the title character (played by Albert Finney) smoulder at one another while gulping back wine, slurping oysters, tearing at chicken legs and biting lasciviously into pears.

Small, blonde and vivacious, with large blue eyes and a throaty voice, Joyce Redman won an Oscar nomination for her supporting performance as woman of the world Mrs Waters in a film which has gone down in the annals of cinema as the first to arouse audiences and directors to the erotic possibilities of food.

The scene was all the more sensual in that, while the characters probed, fingered and sucked their food, they did so without laying a finger on each other. The moment they stop eating, however, the two run for a room.

Real life, of course, never imitates art. One of Joyce's oysters turned out to be bad; as a result of which she was laid up in bed for several days.

Redman also won Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for her role as Desdemona's faithful servant Emilia alongside Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier in Othello (a 1965 film version of a British National Theatre production).

She enjoyed almost constant success in the theatre during a career that lasted more than 60 years.

Joyce Redman was born on December 9, 1915, in Newcastle, into an Anglo-Irish family, and grew up in Co Mayo. She was educated by governesses, along with her three sisters, and subsequently trained at Rada.

Her first London appearance was in 1935 in Alice Through the Looking Glass and she appeared in many productions in the West End before scoring her first major critical success as Brigid, a Catholic priest's Irish housemaid, in Shadow and Substance in 1943.

Later the same season she took over the title role from Pamela Brown in Claudia, with which she went on tour before joining the Old Vic Company (then the New Theatre).

But her initial terror at the prospect of playing opposite Olivier as Louka in Arms and the Man and Richardson as Solveig in Peer Gynt on two successive first nights became so overwhelming that she made up her mind to resign.

But one evening, as she made her way home from rehearsals in London, a flying bomb exploded near her. She was unscathed, and when she emerged from hospital a few hours later she found that she had discovered "an almost supernatural confidence", which saw her safely through those two opening performances. A few days later, however, she collapsed from delayed shock.

Redman brought gusto to a variety of roles with the Old Vic. Perhaps her most notable performance with the company was as Cordelia to Olivier's Lear in 1946, a performance which, said one critic, had "that sunlit, golden joyousness one feels behind all this actress's work -- even behind the mist of her tears".

After her New York debut as Doll Tearsheet in 1946 in Henry IV, for the next decade or so Redman divided her time between London and Broadway. She also appeared at the Comédie Française.

In Mary Hayley Bell's thriller Angel she stole the show as a 16-year-old Victorian girl of doubtful sanity. She played a leading role in a Broadway production of the same author's eerie Duet for Two Hands.

Back in London in 1948, her performance as the young wife in Sartre's Crime Passionel was praised for its combination of "childish make-believe and catlike lechery". On Broadway four months later, she scored a big success as Anne Boleyn in Anne of a Thousand Days, one critic claiming that she "scorched" the pages of the drama "to the point where the play is not a good fire insurance risk".

In 1955 she joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford to play Helena in All's Well that Ends Well and Mistress Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

In the 1960s she appeared in numerous productions with Olivier's National Theatre Company.

Redman made her film debut in a small role in the wartime drama One of Our Aircraft Is Missing in 1942, and in 1949 made her television debut as a seductive Lady Macbeth.

In the film Prudence and the Pill (1968) she and Deborah Kerr played women whose conflicting and comical attempts to avoid pregnancy by using the (then new) contraceptive pill end in failure. Her television appearances included roles in Tales of the Unexpected and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries.

Her films for TV included Vanity Fair and The Merry Wives of Windsor. She made her last television appearance aged 86 in Victoria & Albert (2001), in which she played the elderly monarch; her son, Crispin Redman, also appeared in the production.

Joyce Redman married, in 1949, Charles Wynne-Roberts, a former army captain, with whom she had three children.

Joyce Redman, born December 9, 1915, died May 10, 2012.

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